Thursday, 9 March 2017

Reflections on International Women’s Day and Mrs Jane Redford, Manchester's second woman councillor

I have been staring at this picture for some time.

It was taken on October 7th 1911 at the opening of Chorltonville, and somewhere amongst the worthies is Mrs Jane Redford.

She had been born in 1849 so we are looking for a woman aged 62 which narrows the search a little.

She is there because she was one of our elected city councillors having been elected the year before and in the way that these things work she was about to contest the seat again in the November.

So perhaps this was not so much civic duty as another one of the many public engagements that fall to a politician about to fight an election.

But this is perhaps to do Mrs Jane Redford a disservice. She had been active for over 30 years serving on various public bodies including the Board of Henshaw’s Blind Asylum and as a Poor Law Guardian for the Chorlton Union where she had campaigned for the provision of trained nurses for workhouse hospitals. All too often the workhouse authorities had relied on old and illiterate inmates to tend the sick.

Important as these contributions were it is her role as a city councillor which is more significant because her election in 1910 made her just the second woman to be elected to the council.

What is in some ways more remarkable is that she was not a member of the main political parties and seems to have had little in the way of an organisation behind her.

She described herself as a Progressive Candidate which had less to do with radical politics and more to do with all fashioned rate payer concerns.

Her predecessor Harry Kemp had campaigned as a progressive on the platform of advancing “good government” which involved “exercising a rigorous protest against extravagance” and “preserving as far as possible the residential character” of Chorlton.

But, and here is the interesting thing it came with a progressive take on the need for “adequate Schools, Libraries, Open Spaces, Public Baths and everything which counts for the better health and morality of the people”

And Mrs Redford echoed this in her own election address of 1911 which highlighted her record on the Education, Libraries and Sanitary Committees along with a degree of success in checking “the building of houses on the Chorlton side [of Longford Park] in order that Chorlton people may have easy access to this new park.”

It is also there in her concerns over the Carnegie grant to build a new library which she felt should have been delivered “through the ordinary means of municipal enterprise.”

Now the normal rate payer position and certainly that of her fellow Chorlton councillors along with Alderman Fletcher Moss was “for acceptance of the gift,” which perhaps marks her out as more than just a guardian of careful council spending.

And in turn points back to her wider concerns for the welfare of people.

She argued strongly that the Education Committee should experiment with vocational training and in particular training girls for domestic service which “was of all the occupations for girls that which was not overcrowded and so [they would be able to] enter service at once and claim a proper wage, instead of commencing work and gaining a precarious livelihood by cleaning steps.”

Of course it is easy to be cynical about the role of vocational education and I for one spent years arguing the need for a well balanced curriculum for young people which didn’t just push them into manual work without offering them the opportunity of a broad and challenging set of subjects.

And this seems to have been what motivated her, because while advocating the pilot scheme to train young girls she was keen that the Education Committee work with the Post Office to widen the career prospects of telegraph boys, who “were only engaged for a certain number of years as messenger carriers and when they had to find work other than that of a purely causal character the task was not a very easy one” 

The plan was provide “two or three hours instruction each day, so that when their career as telegraph boys ceased they might be better equipped to secure other and perhaps more lucrative appointments.”

Now I think it might be fair to argue that she did not embrace a clear political position which might mark off from say the vision of the new Labour Party but likewise this was no conventional rate payer politician. She had expressed her growing concern at the lack of school provision both here in Chorlton and across the city and was very active in the movement for women’s health.

There is more to find out about Mrs Redford and also stories to tell of other women who campaigned in their trade unions and local Labour Party branches for the vote, improved social conditions and a better deal for ordinary people but they are for later.

Location; Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchetser

Pictures; The opening ceremony of Chorltonville, from the Lloyd collection, picture of Mrs Jane Redford from her election address by kind permission of Lawrence Beadle

References; Manchester Guardian, Harry Kemp and Jane Redford's election addresses.

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